Considerable care is necessary on steep slopes. The driver is flanked by the tracks and sits ahead of the engine; he's not likely to escape if the vehicle flips


The Kettenkrad was typical of vehicles designed and manufactured for the German Wehrmacht during WWII-innovative, well made, and generally superior to equipment used by their enemies. Designated "SdKfz 2" by the German army, the Kettenkrad was an ingenious half motorcycle, half tracked vehicle, hence its name-"ketten" meaning tracks, "krad" meaning Krafttrad, or motorcycle.

It was created by NSU designer Ernst Kniepcamp in 1939, after the Nazis had standardized industrial production and forced NSU out of the large motorcycle business. It was designed for German airborne forces as a light, multi-terrain, towing vehicle and was the only gun tractor small enough to fit inside the hold of the Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft.

Steering was accomplished by turning the handlebars. If little movement was used then the wheel alone would steer the vehicle; however, if the bars were turned further, the track brakes would be engaged (just like a tank) to turn more sharply.

The handlebars had a twist-grip throttle, just like a motorcycle, but the transmission was car-type, incorporating a 3-speed gearbox and foot-operated clutch. There were high and low transmission ranges-"Gelande" (off-road) and "Strasse" (street)-for a total of six speeds. The engine was the super-reliable 1,478-cc inline water-cooled unit from the Opel Olympia car, also in use with the Wehrmacht.

The tracked system was very advanced, using roller bearings and padded tracks. This gave rise to an extraordinary top speed of 50 mph on road surfaces, although the instruction manual advised a maximum of 44 mph. In any event, it was the fastest tracked vehicle of WWII. Kettenkrads were used in almost every theater of the war and proved very reliable in all conditions, from the arctic Russian winter to the heat of the Western desert.

They were used to tow anti-tank guns as part of feared tank-busting teams, to tow ammunition trailers to the front line, to lay cables and ferry troops to difficult locations. Their excellent cross-country ability made them the last vehicles to bog down in the clinging Russian mud. Later in the war they were even used to tow Messerschmitt Me 262 jets up to the runways in an effort to save valuable aviation fuel.

In all, over 8,000 NSU Kettenkrads were produced, compared to over 600,000 Jeeps. However, as German army equipment was virtually wiped out at the end of the war, few have survived.

This 1945 NSU Kettenkrad was bought by the current owner from a collection in Germany, having been restored there in the late 1990s. It has been used regularly on the vendor's farm over the years and performs just like it would have done in the war, coping with all types of terrain. The vehicle is offered without documents, though Kettenkrads can be registered and used on the public highway.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1945 NSU Kettenkrad
Original List Price:RM 6,810 in 1947 ($681)
Chassis Number Location:On steering head
Engine Number Location:Left side of block
Club Info:German Military Vehicles Club, Am Ziegenberg 19 D-34513 Waldeck, Germany
Investment Grade:B

This 1945 NSU Kettenkrad sold for $123,525 at the Bonhams Goodwood auction held in Sussex, England, on September 19, 2008.

This price was about double the Bonhams estimate of $60,000-$70,000 and probably a surprise to the audience. But it wasn’t a surprise to Kettenkrad guru Andreas Melhorn, who lives in Brunswick, Germany. He has three of the vehicles and just sold one to a collector in Australia.

Melhorn reports that German auctioneers Hermann Historica sold a Kettenkrad at auction recently for ?150,000 (about $205,000) and he observed that the sale caused a flurry of owners to try to cash in on the surge in prices. Since there are reckoned to be about 500 Kettenkrads in existence, look for a number to come to market in the near future.

Kettenkrads offer a very specific skill set, like the amphibious German Schwimmwagen, or the U.S. Jeep. Short of displaying them at military shows or delivering mail in the Swiss Alps, the only other use is in tight agricultural quarters, like orchards and vineyards.

Replaced motorcycle and sidecar combinations

Since they are tall and narrow, as well as heavy (2,726 lb), considerable care is necessary on steep slopes. The driver is flanked by the tracks and sits ahead of the engine; he’s not likely to escape if the vehicle flips over.

NSU Kettenkrads were remarkably effective, considering the design was outside the Werhmacht’s box at first. They replaced motorcycle and sidecar combinations (even ones with two driven wheels) when road and weather conditions in Russia and North Africa exceeded awful.

In all, 8,345 had been built by war’s end. Stettin-based automaker Steyr made them from 1943 and even Simca made spares in Paris. A further 550 Kettenkrads were assembled by NSU between 1946 and 1949 for use as orchard tractors, and there are rumors of some being sent to the U.S. for Forest Service evaluation.

Should you be in the market, be aware that early Kettenkrads have different wheels and instruments and are rarer than later models. The original is an HK 101, and there’s a longer wheelbase HK 102.

So was this 1945 NSU Kettenkrad a good buy? I’d have to say it is, and it moves the bar sharply up from the $40,000-$50,000 level of two years ago. The critical element in buying one of these is that it be complete, and this vehicle passes that test. Reproduction rubber parts are being made in Czechoslovakia, but that’s about it for spares in the outside world. Still, you can always check out Melhorn’s excellent web site at, in case you find one in boxes.

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